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Watch TV (and ads) in the dentist chair

October 6, 2008 |  1:02 pm

InChairTV in action Here's a way to cheer up those of you whose stock portfolio is in the toilet: At least you're not on your way to the dentist's office. (This is not an effective tactic for people who are actually on their way to the dentist's office). With the sharp metal devices used to poke your gums and the disapproving stares for not flossing enough, a visit to the dentist's chair often isn't much fun.

Matthew Leader wants to make the dentist's office a more entertaining place. His New York company, InChairTV, supplies dentists with DVDs for patients to watch as they recline for a cleaning or filling. Leader has even figured out a way for patients to watch TV without having to look at the sharp tools and whirring brushes dentists wield above their heads: through sunglasses with LCD screens that make it seem as if there's a 44-inch TV screen a few feet away.

The DVDs, now shown in 400 dental offices across the country, feature licensed content from Disney and ABC, including shows such as Ugly Betty and Scrubs. During the commercial breaks, patients watch ads for dental procedures such as teeth whitening, a boon for the dentists who are trying to convince patients to spend on cosmetic procedures.

Today InChairTV said it would allow any interested advertiser to run ads targeting the captive audience stuck in a dentist's chair. The cost for 30- and 60-second spots will be similar to that of ads on broadcast TV, Leader says. He thinks advertisers will rush to get their ads on digital screens that consumers actually enjoy watching.

"Many screens out there are there just because it's possible, not because it's a good idea," he said, referring to the digital screens popping up everywhere from the gas station to the elevator. "But we're actually answering a need rather than just putting out something people are going to see because they're looking in that direction."

Dentists pay $499 for the equipment and get free DVDs through a Netflix-like service; they're required to send the discs back every few months so that InChairTV can update the ads and content. Leader says it's worth it -- according to a Nielsen Media Research study the company commissioned, 82% of patients said they'd use InChairTV again and 87% said they'd tell family and friends about it.

"The distractive element totally eliminates the irrational fear of going to the dentist," said Mal Braverman, a New York dentist who uses InChairTV in his office.

Fair enough -- but the question remains: Will the irrational fear of going to the dentist be replaced by a very rational fear of being stuck in the dentist's chair watching ads for toothpaste?

-- Alana Semuels

Photo by InChairTV